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 I've been a manager for over 20 years, but after being recently promoted into a Senior Leadership role, I'm struggling a bit with the balance between "core hours" and tracking the minutes of exempt employees.

My staff works on a variety of projects, all with deadlines. The "core hours" of the company are 8:30-5:30 every day, but policy allows for flexible scheduling, as agreed between the employee and his/her manager.

Over the past year, we've missed more deadlines than we've hit. There are all sorts of external reasons for this (lack of commitment from other departments, IT issues, etc.), but certainly one of the issues appears to be that a number of the staff are beginning to work a schedule that looks a lot more like 9-5 than 8:30-5:30.

I know that the feedback should be all about the results of the projects, not the time employees work, but is there a point at which I can/should address time directly? I don't really care if someone works 35 hours a week or 50 hours a week, so long as the work is done on time and with high quality (their work AND the team's work). How can I (and my managers) reset expectations that to do the job, you have to be at the job without treating the staff like non-exempts?

mattpalmer's picture

I'm a bit confused about your use of the term "core hours".  The way I use the term (and the way I've seen it used) is a subset of hours each day when everyone is expected to be in the office/near-constantly available (modulo training, days off, etc).  The idea is that this is the period of the day when you can assume that *everyone* in the team is available for meetings, consultation, and collaboration.  As long as you're available during that time period, you can do the rest of your work whenever/wherever you want.

On that basis, the idea of "core hours" that are 9 hours of the workday is confusing to me.  Mandating that everyone be in the office for 9 hours a day means that everyone's working 45 hours a week, at a bare minimum.  I'd not be surprised that everyone's quietly rebelling against *that*.

Either way, the solution to the problem is the same -- when not being available/in the office has an impact on the person's productivity or the productivity of others, you give feedback.  Positive feedback when the person is available and that makes things better, and negative feedback when the person isn't available and that causes a problem.  Missing/meeting deadlines is an important part of that, so there's a rich vein of feedback material right there, but any time someone says "hey, where's Bob?" during core hours, when Bob appears he gets feedback along the lines of "when you're not here during core hours, Jane's work is delayed because she can't get the info she needs from you".

 

managerone's picture

 @Matt - thanks for the reply, it confirms my intuition.

To answer your question, the company states core hours to be 8:30 - 5:30, with the assumption that at least an hour is used for lunch. That use of core hours has also struck me as odd, so as a practical matter, I tend to sort of ignore that and have tried to focus on meeting deliverables, much as you've mentioned. However, given the tendency toward working fewer hours while deadlines aren't being met, I feel I need to directly address time as a contributing factor.

This makes HR nervous - they don't want any discussion of time worked with exempts to avoid any appearance of treating exempts as hourly employees. To me, there must be a balance somewhere to help them identify a weakness ... "Bob, when you only work 7 hours per day, your project is inevitably delayed because to accomplish the volume of work by the agreed deadline requires your attention, and you cannot give that attention when you aren't here."

And even if an exempt is getting their job done quite well, there's a point at which attendance needs to be addressed, right? ("Bob, I want to showcase your skills to Senior Management, but that's difficult to do when you're not here often enough to interact with them on a regular basis.")

Am I off base here, or do I just continue to offer consequences for not meeting deadlines and let them arrive at the root cause (lack of proper dedicated time) by themselves?

GlennR's picture

<but certainly one of the issues appears to be that a number of the staff are beginning to work a schedule that looks a lot more like 9-5 than 8:30-5:30.>

"Appears to be?" Are you 1000% sure or not. Because if you're not 10000% sure here, you risk wasting time, failing to solve the problem, and damaging employee engagement. This could only accelerate the number of missed deadlines.

Do not be seduced by what appears to be an easy fix. And really, do you expect that you'll solve the problem by sliding core hours 30 minutes in one direction?

Two possible solutions:

First, let me quote two of Dale Carnegie's famous human relationship principles here.

  1. Let the other person feel the idea is his or hers (#16)
  2. Appeal to the nobler motives (#19)

Got star performers in your department? Sit down with them and (later) their managers. Find out how they work. Start a conversation involving them and ask them for feedback on how to hit more deadlines in a timely fashion. If they have input into the solutions, they'll be more likely to adopt it. And I would hope that others look up to them.

Or, hold yourself and your managers accountable for the results. It sounds to me like the managers are one weak link here. Others involve how you communicate and relate to other internal customers/departments.

Holding your managers accountable means that one possible course of action is to individually adjust core hours when necessary. But I'd suggest focusing on reducing the turn around time it takes to respond to requests, making sure each person clearly communicates their communications preferences, the expectations around customer service, the importance of proactiveness in innovation, etc.

Focus on removing barriers to effective communication and on rewarding those who are effective. Don't penalize people who don't need to be penalized. Or, you'll find yourself spending more time and money on hiring and training.

 

mattpalmer's picture

"Bob, when you only work 7 hours per day, your project is inevitably delayed"

Objection your honour!  Assuming facts not in evidence!

There's at least four assumptions here:

  • That Bob is only working 7 hours per day (why couldn't he be putting in time at home in the evenings?)
  • That the 7 hours per day that Bob is in the office is all work (Facebook comes on phones now, too)
  • That the reason why the project is delayed is because Bob is working 7 hours per day
  • That an extra hour of work per day is the only thing that stands between delay and Epic Success

While "working 7 hours per day" is a behaviour, linking that to an outcome like "your project is inevitably delayed" is tenuous at best.  Far better to focus on a behaviour that has a more direct consequence (like "when you deliver your assigned tasks late, it holds up the project and we lose $25,000 in sales" (or whatever), and then when "what can you do differently?" comes around, you can suggest that Bob put in a few more hours in the office.

"And even if an exempt is getting their job done quite well, there's a point at which attendance needs to be addressed, right?"

Wrong.  "Galactically stupid" wrong.  By focusing on presence in the office over results, you're sending the crystal clear message that what is important to you is time in the office, not delivering results.  The only time you should be caring about the number of hours spent sitting in a seat is if you're managing a team of seat models.

You can say that you value results until you're blue in the face, but if you spend your time harassing people about what time they're in the office when it doesn't *clearly* relate to delivering results (that's *clearly* in the mind of the listener, because communication is what the listener does) then you're sending the message "punching a clock is more important to me than actual results".  Do you want to send that message?

cganiere's picture

Great remarks Matt. It is important to reward the behaviors that you want more of.

lisas2's picture

My experience with core hours has been along the lines of  09:00-16:00 for the 5 weekdays. These are the hours in which you are generally expected to be available for meetings, calls and other collaborative efforts. The company hours are advertised as 08:30-17:30 and most employees work these hours, but different schedules that span the core hours are not unheard of, especially in IT. The normal culture and expectations for exempts here is 9 hours a day, five days a week, with an hour for lunch. 

For myself, I'm committed to 07:30-16:30. In the IT organization, these core hours are required whether you are in the office or working from a home office, including if you work from a remote location in a different timezone. So for my manager who is in Houston, the "core" hours work out as local time 11:00-18:00 (corporate is on Pacific time). 

At times, people in IT work 10 hour days, weekends, overnight, work  from home a few hours a night and so on.  These exempt employees can also take comp time with their managers approval, come in late after a late night deployment or working a production outage. 

 

 

pucciot's picture

Don't forget about the general environment.

I work in a mixed envronment where exempts and non-exempts work side by side.

Most of the exempts don't work more than their 37.5hrs.   but do on occassion.

The non-exempts are expected to work thier 37.5 hrs and be on time everyday, everyweek.

So yes, you can see a major morale problem if the exempts are perceived as taking advatage of their exempt status, while the whip is cracked on the non-exempts.

We tell our exempts that thier work is based on the same 37.5 hrs and that they are expected to commit to a standard usual schedule, when to come in and when they leave.  They can change the schedule somtimes on various days ...

But, if they say that they will be into work at 9:30am - 6:00pm  on Wednesdays - they are expected to be on time.

If they need to go longer, well that is fine.

The point here is that we try to avoid the appearance of a double standard of fair treatment.

Sure, we know there is a difference between exempt and non-exempt - but most non-exempts do not see it that way.They don't always notice when the exempt works more -- but they always notice when the exempt works less.

 

Good luck

TJPuccio